What It Is
Nokia Lumia 1020
What It Does
A Windows smartphone with a killer camera.
Where to Buy It
What It Costs
$299 (with AT&T contract)
You need a phone and you need a camera, but does it matter if they’re both the same device? For years technology wags have been proclaiming that those who really needed a camera couldn’t just depend on the one integrated into their smartphone. But the recent release of the Nokia Lumia 1020 is forcing lots of people to reconsider that opinion—including yours truly.
There’s no way around it. If you’re looking for the smartphone that takes the absolute best pictures, this is it. Adapting on the technology introduced in the 808 PureView phone, the 1020 uses a six-lens array to take monstrous 38-megapixel (or, in wide-angle mode, 34MP) photos at the same time it does an oversampled 5MP shot with lossless zoom. And these pictures are incredible: crisp, with little noise, and staying good through higher ISO settings.
Other adjustments to the hardware improve low-light performance and add barrel-shift optical image stabilization, and a specialized app called Nokia Pro Cam provides you with easy ways to get your shots to look exactly the way you want them. When you know what you’re doing and take the time to set up everything properly, you’ll produce photos that come tantalizingly close to rivaling those you get with real D-SLRs. These benefits don’t always translate perfectly to 1080p video, but that looks pretty good as well.
There are a couple of downsides, however. The protruding lens makes the 1020 a bit bulky. You can’t take multiple shots in a row quickly—expect six seconds of lag between shots. And because it runs the Windows Phone operating system, you have to contend (at least for now) with a general lack of other photo apps and support—the ecosystem just isn’t as developed as those for Android and (especially) Apple phones.
As for the rest of the 1020, well, it has an excellent camera. Everything else is solid but not as spectacular, and that makes this a trickier buy if you’re looking for a complete package rather than just One Killer Feature—especially given the 1020’s fairly high price ($299, with contract). The camera might make it worth jumping from another phone, but nothing else really does.
That makes the 1020 a phone that’s ideal for those who really, really want to take great pictures—and not necessarily anyone else. More discriminating shoppers will probably be fine sticking with a more balanced handset, such as an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S 4. Who knows, maybe they’ll want a good point-and-shoot to accompany it? But if cameras keep improving as much as the 1020 shows is possible, that probably won’t be a viable option for very much longer.